Aaron just moved to Los Angeles and is about to have a baby. He needs a bigger car but it absolutely cannot be a crossover, it has to be the body style we all love on this fine website: a wagon. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario:
We’re about to have a baby and we’re transplants to LA and really enjoy the city, and try to get to as many corners of it as often as we can for great restaurants). We also maximize the access we have to its environs. We’ve definitely done the “beach in the morning, ski in the evening” thing, and want to continue to do so.
I currently have a Jetta SE and I need to expand my cargo space a bit, I absolutely refuse to get a crossover. It’s got to be a wagon, though I know that limits my options. Also I would really like a manual. As for budget I can spend up to $30,000.
Budget: Up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Wants: A manual wagon.
Doesn’t want: A crossover.
Aaron, myself and the rest of the Jalopnik staff fully support your wagon preference, but here is the reality of the situation—if you want longroof that is relatively new and must have a manual there is basically one choice, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen or Alltrack. Those are fine and nice and will get the job done, but allow me to open up the possibilities a bit.
While I totally get the desire to have three pedals, since you are a recent transplant to the LA area you may want to consider what kind of traffic you will be encountering on a regular basis. Manual transmissions are fun, but they are not enjoyable if you are slogging through bumper-to-bumper traffic every day. You might want to consider a wagon with an automatic that doesn’t suck as this will open up your choices a bit.
You should go find a BMW 3 Series Sport Wagon. You can have it with either a diesel or gasoline motor. I prefer the latter since it feels significantly quicker. The ZF eight-speed automatic is actually really good. Select manual mode and you can change gears using the steering wheel paddles and unlike similar automatics that just feel like clicking buttons on a video game controller, the BMW’s transmission has a distinct click when you pull the lever so you feel like you are doing something. The BMW also handles like a legit sports sedan but with more cargo space.
There are plenty of examples under the $30,000 mark many of which will have a certified pre-owned warranty, like this one with the Sport package and less than 25,000 miles.
A search on Cars.com for new and used manual transmission wagons within 100 approximate miles of where you live reveals just 109 cars to choose from. Many of them are Kia Souls. This is the sad state our country is in these days. (Not that the Kia Soul is a bad car, mind you; quite the opposite. But I think we can get you into something more fun.)
I’ll quickly say I also support Tom’s 3 Series wagon selection because you can never really go wrong with a 3 Series, and yes, the auto on that car is very good. You could also get into a used Audi Allroad for under $30,000—they’re not as horribly unreliable as they used to be. Aim for a CPO warranty and hope for the best. Also, remember a hot hatchback may also suit your needs just fine, if you want to give some of those a try.
But if you want a truly fun manual wagon, here’s an overlooked choice: the Mini Clubman S. It’s a Mini Cooper but wider and longer with ultra-pragmatic “barn doors” in the back to accommodate all that baby gear. And for you, under the hood is a perky 2.0-liter BMW turbo four with 189 horsepower, which can of course be had with a stick. These cars are a blast to drive. They keep everything fun and darty and silly about owning a Mini, just with more space.
Here’s one with a manual for $27,300. Legally, you now have to dress your kid in all sorts of Mini-branded apparel with Union Jack flags and shit all over it, but it’s a small price to pay for all the practical, fun motoring you’ll be doing.
Aaron, you live in Los Angeles, a city with one of the greatest automotive landscapes in the world. It’s a wonderful place for your child to really gain an appreciation of the World Automotive, and the best way to do that is to raise them in a fun, engaging car. A car like the manual wagon you’re imagining, and maybe even like the one I’m imagining: this 1970 Volkswagen Type III Squareback.
Now, I know I’m always the one pushing for people to drive ancient shitboxes, likely for my own perverse amusement, but this one is a little different: it’s completely redone, inside and out, and sports a glorious, two-tone paint job and interior upholstery vastly more decadent and luxurious than the original. It even looks like the floor mats are upholstered!
Plus, it has power windows and keyless entry and some kind of LED lights on the mirrors and swiveling captain’s chairs and more modern updates. Was this car made for a king? A sultan? A petroleum oligarch?
No, it’s for you and your new family, and it’s only $7,450. You can save the extra $23 grand you were going to spend for kid-related expenses of which, let me tell you, will be plentiful.
Plus, the Type III is a triumph of packaging: why settle for just a cargo area in the rear when you can have a whole trunk as well, up front? The Type III will let you shove a huge-ass folded stroller in the rear and have plenty of cargo room up front for all the other equipment required to operate a modern baby.
Okay, sure, it’s not technically as safe as a modern car, but I shoved a nice safe baby seat in my old Volkswagen and we all got on just fine. Besides, airbags aren’t even helpful for babies! You’ll drive much safer knowing all this, I’m sure.
More importantly, your kid will grow up in the back of an old Squareback, and I’m positive that will be better for them than the most expensive private pre-school in Silverlake. You know the one.
Well, looks like everyone has this covered. A sensible new car like the BMW. A slightly less sensible but more fun it’s-not-a-BMW. A slightly less sensible than that but even more fun Squareback. It is my turn to offer the extremely not sensible but even yet more fun option.
For this there are two choices as far as I see them (on your local Craigslist/BaT). The first of which being this 1969 Citroeën DS21 Safari, complete with sideways back back seats. Amazing. The seller is asking a completely over the top $30,000 for it, which means that either this is in impeccable shape or the seller is a fanatic. Given that it’s a hydropneumatic Citroën, I’m expecting the latter.
As such, I would avoid that car, but instead angle towards this result of “avant + manual” in your local CL, which produced this V8-powered Audi S4 wagon with a stick for $18k.
Now, this is one of the least-service friendly cars in recent history. It is an awful used car, particularly because the timing chain is on the back of the engine, and your whole front end will have to come apart more often than never.
It’s $18k, and you have $12k for all of that repair work when it comes. Smart move? Probably not, but it’ll be fun, right?